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The Dynamics of Campaigning for Capital

The Dynamics of Campaigning for Capital

The new realities of fundraising raise the bar

The process of pulling together a successful capital campaign gets tweaked all the time. But one thing remains constantit is still an essential part of raising the equity funds necessary to implement any church building plan.

"The importance of a capital campaign should not be overlooked as part of the building plan," notes Therese DeGroot, market president of Lake Forest, Calif.- based Community First Financial Resources with First Bank.

"In addition to minimizing the amount of debt required to complete the project, it also engages the congregation," DeGroot explains. "A clear mission statement and well-crafted case, with a call to action, will provide a solid starting point," she says, adding, "Committing resources to both the execution and follow-up of the campaign will serve you well. "

Post-recession dynamics

Today's successful church fundraising capital campaign differs from its prefinancial- market-meltdown counterpart of 3-4 years ago in a number of ways.

For one thing, parishioners are of a different mindset these days, according to Mark Brooks, founding partner and president of The Charis Group in Atlanta.

The past recession increased the fears of Americans already anxious as a result of 9/11 and subsequent economic downturns, Brooks reports, "and as a result, American Christians have gone much more conservative in the amount that they put down on a pledge card.

"We are seeing lower pledge totals, and more people NOT pledging, but simply giving as they feel led," Brooks notes, "which means we have to spend much more time following up and garnering non-pledged giving, and seeing to it that those that conservatively pledged go beyond that amount."

There's more of a focus by parishioners on how giving impacts people, reports Joel Mikell, president of Dallas-based RSI Church Stewardship Group.

"Peopleespecially the younger ones want to give to something that will change lives, not just pay for a bigger building," Mikell says.

This growing focus on "life change" has already had its impact on the language of fundraising, according to Mikell, who reports, "We are avoiding the word campaign' and talk about the experience in terms of a spiritual journey.'"

On the whole, today's campaign is more staff-driven than before, with less use of volunteers, reports Jim Sheppard, CEO and principal of Atlanta-based Generis. There's also a trend toward shorter giving periods because it can be nearly impossible to look ahead three years, he notes.

Successful campaigns include

The successful campaign is built upon spiritual ground, notes Brooks.

"A campaign is not about fund raising, but faith raising," he says. Campaigns need to focus on leading people to respond by faith, and prayer should be a huge element of this journey, Brooks says, adding, "If a church makes the process a spiritual journey, and the vision is compelling, donors will respond."

Successful campaigns also require connecting with specific groups within the church through what Mikell calls "three distinct strategic conversations." In addition to communication with the congregation at large, these include dialogue with affluent major donors, i.e., those capable of giving major gifts, and with influential "core leaders," those people "who, in every church, are the 20% that give 80%," he notes.

A healthy church, a clear vision, and an excellent communications strategy are the prime components of the successful campaign, adds Sheppard.

The role of new technology

Churches are still one step behind the rest of the world when it comes to applying new technology to their fundraising efforts, according to Brooks.

"Few churches are using social media effectively, although I expect that to change over the next 3-5 years," Brooks says. While email is now being used much more frequently by churches, "I find that other means, such as Facebook [and] Twitter, and other technologies of communicating are still barely touched by most churches. American charities are beginning to wise up to this trendand I expect the church to catch up."

Tech tools such as webcasts, webinars, Skype, and others are enabling campaign consultants to better serve churches through "virtual consulting," according to Mikell. "Using these tools, we can be on-site' for our clients on a weekly basis."

The pastor's vision

The vision of the pastor, and how he/she communicates that vision, is crucial, according to our experts in the field.

"The pastor's visionand passion for that visionis more critical than ever before to the success of a capital campaign," says Mikell. People want to know how the senior pastor thinks and feels about the campaign, he notes, adding that the pastor is "not only the one up front' preaching and teaching, but also has to be seen as the one out front,' leading the charge."

Brooks, too, agrees that a pastor's vision is key. And for a campaign to be successful, "The pastor cannot mail it in,' but instead has to communicate the message effectively to all elements of the church."

Specifically, donors need to know "how does this project or campaign fulfill the vision God has called us to at our church, and what [is] the plan of action?" Brooks articulates. "They want to know if you can successfully show them they can afford this project, and that you have a plan to proceed without breaking the bank or running up excessive debt."

And he adds, "Show that you have a well thought-out plan, and that it is a fulfillment of your vision, and donors will respond."

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